Don’t kill them because they’re Shia!


It’s quite unfortunate for the Bahriani Shias that they were caught on the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the political game currently ongoing in the Middle East. It’s generally been quite astounding how politicized some tried to make out the recent Arab revolutions when in their essence they are just people movements inspired by various events in present and modern history. These spontaneous movements and protests came as a direct rejection to decades of tyranny, oppression and at best political cynicism from a very corrupt political and military establishment.

In the Bahraini case the Shia majority of the population got to choose some representatives in the somewhat powerless lower house of the National Assembly in 2002, 2006 and 2010. In October 2010 they elected 18 of the 40 members, all from the ‘Al Wefaq’ party, who held on to a strong majority in the house. This having come after a wide boycott from the Shia opposition in 2002 and a strong showing in the 2006 elections.

The 2002 elections came after King Hamad Bin Khalifa changed the constitution in the same year, fulfilling his promises on a set of democratic reforms after taking the reign of power following his father’s death in 1999. Of course at the time Bahrain was witnessing the uprisals of the 1990s in which various sections of the Bahraini society called for democratic reform, an end of the then dismal status quo and the reinstatement of the 1973 constitution. It was that uprisal of the Bahrainis that inspired the Arab world in the years to come. The strong union of the various shades of the Bahrani society coming together so determined was fuel for the Damascus spring of 2000 when the Syrians led by civil society leaders and intellectuals like the late Omar Amiralay attempted to peacefully change the discourse of Syrian politics after the death of Hafez el Assad. It was the Damascus spring of 2000 which at least partly inspired the Beirut spring of 2005!

The Bahranis got their demands fulfilled when in 2001 a referendum over the National Action Charter of Bahrain was favored by a whopping 98% in a massive public showing that saw 90% turnout. Shortly before the referendum, King Hamad had met with the Shia leaders to assure them that although the house would be compromised of one elected lower house and a royally appointed upper house known as the Shura council, it will be the lower house that holds the legislative powers and the upper house would play as an advisory role. The vote went ahead in 2001, and shortly after in 2002 King Hamad took the liberty to promulgate the constitution giving both houses equal powers without having consulted the public. This led to a wide boycott by the Shia parties in the 2002 elections, only to return in 2006 and make significant results.

In response to the growing clerical influence on the houses in 2002 the King appointed a largely liberal Shura council which comprised a diverse array including Christians, Jews, women and Al-Meethaq party which had lost the elections that year. The council also included Ms Alees Samaan, a Christian, who in 2004 made history by becoming the first woman to chair a parliament session the Arab world.

The daily situation of the Bahraini Shias did not improve much though, in fact on the contrary Shias were still not allowed to hold any influential governmental or military posts, and Sunnis always got the preferential treatment in employment, housing and infrastructure. In a part of the world that is aching for change, Bahrain was just another time bomb waiting to explode.

The situation’s regional implications have given the Bahraini revolutionaries a very distasteful reality, they are not only treated as secondary citizens, but they are also viewed as Iranians or at least Iranian sympathizers by the majority of the Sunni population.

At such a decisive time in the Middle East’s history there is very little to bargain on from the GCC’s (Gulf Cooperation Council) perspective, Iran is next door and they are waiting to pounce. The GCC states are terrified from the prospect of Iranian planes flying over Bahrain in aid of their Shia brethren, at the very least they are wary of any attempt by the Iranians to fund and arm a rebellious situation willing to accept alternatives, just like the Libyan rebels were just as willing to take any help offered; especially with the more radical elements like Al Haq now calling for a complete overthrow of the monarchy. The Americans are on board, and with the US 5th fleet based in Bahrain, the savvy ones would not put their money on much American action against the Bahraini authorities.

In Lebanon, we witnessed what the Iranians can achieve with funding and ideology exporting. All it takes is a sect to feel targeted and left behind by a certain majority and an uneasy situation to create the breeding ground for exploitation. Hezbollah was born from the agonizing reality that the Lebanese Shias were being left out by the state when they needed it the most! We woke up to the Iranian problem pretty late in Lebanon, partly because for a long time it was the Syrians who were pulling the strings in a de facto situation which the Lebanese had to accept by force. The Iranian Islamist revolutionary ideologies however were alive and grabbing the imagination of hundreds (I’d hate to say thousands) of disenchanted Shia youths in the south, Bekaa valley and southern suburbs of Beirut. The dogmas were being taught in Shia schools funded by the Iranians all over the Shia populated areas. The situation in Lebanon is not irreversible but the road is long before the non-Shia Lebanese can win the trust of their Shia brethren and convince them that the only way forward is the state and only the state and that they must put their backing behind the only legitimate force in the country which is the Lebanese army. This isn’t an easy feat at all, but the Lebanese must not give up as it is their duty to save their nation.

And taking that argument it’s only natural to suggest to the Bahraini authorities and the Bahraini Sunnis to seriously consider the demands of the Bahraini Shias and win them over while it’s still possible, before the Persian winds of change start blowing south west towards Bahrain and the Gulf region. The Bahraini opposition demands are within reason; a constitutional monarchy will guarantee both sides a fair share of power, and if successful could be a model to be exported to neighboring monarchies.

It’s still early days and the Bahrainis have a golden chance to win over the hearts of Shia majority, but they must start by halting all their savage crackdowns on the pro-democracy opposition and launching a true appeal to them that they can trust. The GCC states must also back down from this, their blatant interference will only give the Iranians more fuel.

This will be the next battleground for the region, and what happens next in Bahrain will gravely affect Lebanon and the Hezbolla situation.

As for King Hamad, for God’s sake, don’t kill them because they’re Shia, kill them because they are revolutionaries!!

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